Jones speaks on Iraqi progress

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 22, 2003

The &uot;big picture&uot; of Iraq is better than the media would lead us to believe – that was the message Air Force Lt. Col. David Jones gave to the Greenville Kiwanis Club members Tuesday.

Jones shared pictures of an Iraqi nation on the rebound during a presentation that featured photos and highlights of his recent four-month tour in the war-torn nation.

&uot;My mission basically was to get the damage at the airports assessed and get them up and operational,&uot; Jones said. &uot;We believed we were going to have a humanitarian crisis there, and we needed those airports to get the aid in.&uot;

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After deliberations, it was decided that Jones would be the lead man to head up the mission, serving as the Interim Prime Minister of Aviation in Iraq and a liaison officer for the military.

Jones’ team went to Baghdad and revamped the Iraqi air protocol at the former Saddam International Airport, renamed Baghdad International Airport.

While in Baghdad, Jones stayed in one of the many palaces in Baghdad, but pointed out that it wasn’t a luxurious stay.

&uot;Most of the buildings didn’t have working air conditioning, and the temperatures got up to around 115 degrees during the day,&uot; he said. &uot;We took a temperature reading at 11 p.m. one night, and it was 94 degrees in our room. We slept on cots the first few days, then someone finally found us some beds. However, most of the soldiers there were sleeping in the back of HumVees or anywhere else they could find to lay down, so we were very fortunate to have what we had.&uot;

Jones said he toured several of the palaces in Baghdad, and was amazed at how ornate they were.

One of the first things Jones’ aviation team did was re-route flight paths so that airplanes could fly over Iraq.

&uot;Saddam had flights adjusted so that they wouldn’t fly over the palaces,&uot; he said. &uot;We adjusted the flight paths for maximum efficiency. Also, in the years leading up to Iraqi Freedom, no flights were allowed over the country. In order to get to Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, they had to fly over Iran and other countries that would charge high &uot;fly-over&uot; fees. We changed the paths to allow flights over Iraq, and eliminated the need to fly over those countries.&uot;

His team also had to go out, find Iraqis who had worked at the airports, sort out who was good and bad, and get the good ones back to work.

&uot;Many people asked me how we decided who was good,&uot; Jones said. &uot;We told them we just followed the money. We would look at the logs and see salaries, but then there would be Bath Party bonuses and incentives. Also you could talk with them and see who was technically competent pretty quickly. We also knew that since English was the language for aviation over the world, so anyone who couldn’t speak English very well, probably wasn’t an experienced air traffic controller.&uot;

Jones said the mission to get air traffic restored in Iraq is in its second phase now, which has Iraqis and coalition forces working together. Phase three will see total control of aviation services turned over to the Iraqis.

&uot;We expect it will be at least another year, maybe more, before we can go to phase three,&uot; Jones said. &uot;But things are going well in Iraq. The media only shows the bad things that are happening there. I assure you the majority of the Iraqis are very glad we are there. They just want things to improve more quickly. You would see a different side of things if the media would take their cameras to the markets where food, clothes, computers and many other things are being sold. Things are better than the media would have you believe.&uot;

Jones is the son of Elton and Nancy Jones of Greenville. The Greenville High School graduate lives with his wife, Patricia, and his two sons, Christopher and William, in Dunkirk, Maryland.